Harvard Scientists Design an Origami Robot That Slithers Like a Snake

Thursday, 22 February 2018 - 7:05PM
Technology
Robotics
Thursday, 22 February 2018 - 7:05PM
Harvard Scientists Design an Origami Robot That Slithers Like a Snake
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YouTube/Harvard University

For some reason, scientists seem incredibly keen on making robots that look absolutely terrifying when on the move.

Perhaps it's an inevitability - if robots look like people, they hit Uncanny Valley, while if they take on the best attributes of animals, they simply look disturbing in motion. And there are few animals who move around as disturbingly as a snake.

This is very much apparent in the case of a new robot built by scientists at Harvard University, who have found a way to create an artificial, origami snakeskin that allows their robot to slither across the ground. See one in action below:



Okay, so technically, this isn't origami, but rather, kirigami, the Japanese art of paper cutting. The scientists have cut small scales into the robot's body, which allow it to expand and contract. The pattern takes inspiration from snake scales, and is designed so that when the robot expands, its body pushed forward, while when it contracts, it stays in place.

Using this technique, the robot can exert a small amount of effort to move effortlessly across even uneven surfaces outside.

This isn't entirely how a snake moves - in practice, the robot looks more like a wiggling slug or worm than a legless reptile - but the design works nonetheless, despite looking more than a little creepy to anybody who sees this thing pulsating and wriggling as it moves. There are plenty of potential uses for a robot with this design - its slender body allows it to crawl into tight spaces and holes that people might not be able to reach.



This type of robot isn't the only solution to these kinds of problems - plenty of other microbots have already been developed which can navigate autonomously through hard to reach areas with a lot more dexterity. This snake robot, though, benefits from a simple design that will be easy to implement, making it a very cheap alternative to some other robots that are currently in development.

The robot is the result of work conducted by Harvard postdoctoral researcher Ahmad Rafsanjani, who spent a considerable amount of time researching the best possible shape and layout for the robot's scales in order to achieve the best possible movement with the least effort. After going through about fifty different designs, Rafsanjani finally concluded that he'd found the perfect design for his new, creepy wriggly robots.

Who knows? Perhaps these snake bots will catch on, and become a common sight in daily life. If that's the case, they probably need to be made to look more friendly. A pair of googly eyes would go a long way to turning a creepy design into a hilarious novelty.

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